REVIEW: Frankie is Back at the Warehouse and with Panache

Maddie Tisdel, Clare Ruble and Jon Kilpatrick in “The Rocky Horror Show.” Photo by Jacob McKee

“The Rocky Horror Show” is a hip, crowd-pleasing, thoroughly entertaining, and scintillating, zesty musical sensation that dispenses with all subtleties.

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

“The Rocky Horror Show,” the wacky revolutionary science fiction oddity, has touched down for a landing again at The Warehouse Theatre for the fourth staging of the Richard O’Brien cult classic since 2010.

Admittedly, when I heard both The Warehouse Theatre and Spartanburg Little Theatre were reviving “Rocky Horror” this season, my immediate reaction, like that of others in the Upstate theatre community, was “Why?”

But after experiencing the current incarnation on opening night, I realized how much I have missed the schmaltziness of “Rocky,” much like an old friend. I, as did most of the Frankie-educated and eager audience, knew what to expect, when to expect it, and how to expect it.

From a jump to the left,  a step to right and pelvic thrusting in the “Time Warp” to sex, sex and more sex, guest director and choreographer Jenna Tamisiea (“Spring Awakening”), co-founder of Glow Lyric Theatre, and the cast and creative team of The Warehouse did not disappoint.

This “Rocky Horror” is a hip, crowd-pleasing, thoroughly entertaining, and scintillating, zesty musical sensation.

Better yet, this version is not super glossy, hyper-stylized or over-produced as some directors have done in the past. Tamisiea’s vision of this otherwise-flimsy script is pure and organic, stripped back to its core values (or lack thereof) with few special effects.

Thus, the music performed by the live band (the amazing Janice Issa Wright is back as music director) soars, as do the sublime vocals, over-the-top acting and campy antics from the polished cast.

“Rocky” is anchored by only four Phantom chorus members who open the show with a dynamite and faithful “Science Fiction Double Feature,” recalling Fay Wray and the creatures and B-movies of the 1050s. From bumping and grinding, simulated fellatio and playing  everything from a human doorknob to a video monitor Matt Groves, Hakwon Hawkins, Kenzie Wynne, and Giulia Dalbec (in her second “Rocky” appearance), are the celestial glue that holds the production together.

And you can find this quartet in all-smiles and enthusiasm mingling in the audience before the show, marking “Rocky” virgins with a lipstick “V” on their foreheads. Though I can report, on opening night, there were many middle aged folks like myself that grew up with the film version and most were familiar with the audience participation cues and the expected callbacks.

As the unsuspecting virgins Brad and Janet, (aka Asshole and Slut), Jacob McKee (“Damn It, Janet”) and Paige Vasel were born to play these parts. Exuding innocence, Apple-Pie naivety, and Make America Great Again heartland values, both are delightfully melodramatic and comedic in their performances, with Vasel reigning supreme in her sultry sexual awakening of “Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch Me.” And we believe her sincerity when she beckons “Thrill Me, Chill Me, Fulfill Me!”

The ever-reliable Jon Kilpatrick, now in his fourth “Rocky Horror” production – three at The Warehouse and once in 2015 as Frankie with Spartanburg Little Theatre – is exceptional as always as the servant Riff Raff, from the moment he takes over lead vocals in “Over at the Frankenstein Place” and gets the audience on their feet and in the notorious “Time Warp.” Bravo, Jon!

His other-worldly cohorts are Magenta (Maddie Tisdel in the cutest costume in the show and most devious accent) and Columbia, played by Clare Ruble, in her most outrageous performance to date.

And of course, there is the grand freak of them all – the Sweet Transvestite mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter that everyone has come to gaze. New York based Southerner Frank L. Humphrey III is the fortunate actor who gets to don a corset, studded codpiece, glitter on his nipples and high heels (3 or 4 pairs during the show.)

And girls, does this fellow know how to make an entrance. As soon as the band launches into those opening bars of “Sweet Transvestite,” the audience is dripping with, well ANTICIPATION as they wait to see where he will pounce from. And he surprises us.

Charismatic, sexy, saucy and full of attitude and banter, Humphrey commands complete attention from his audience and cast mates. More Laverne Cox from NBC than like the last Frankies at The Warehouse (Brian Clowdus in 2015 and Will Ragland in 2010 and 2012) he is everything one could hope for in a transsexual house lord. Though it was hard to hear him in his signature number on opening night, Humphrey proved his vocal range and chops time and time again in his stirring swan song “I’m Going Home” and the tawdry “Planet Schmanet.”

Casey Palmisano, who plays the doc’s creation Rocky, is likely a tad older than most Rockys I have seen, but he delivers the goods in abundance. A CrossFit trainer by day, he is fit as Transylvanian fiddle, with powerful legs and 12-pack abs, and the full package barely contained in those leather/vinyl go-go shorts.

Dave LaPage returns to The Warehouse as our charming Narrator and is primed to tell the story and anticipate your caustic callbacks, as well as getting in on the action whenever possible.

And rounding out the cast is Rob Kahn, unrecognizable in a madman’s beard as bad boy Eddie and later as the good human doctor Scott in a wheelchair. This leads me to the one disappointing number (not performance) of the evening “Hot Patootie,” which seemed to be in a different arrangement than I recall, stressing it more as an anthem than the rockin tune that it is.

And amidst all the fun and lunacy of this cockamamie plot and unorthodox liaisons lies another character created by Ida Bostian (“Spring Awakening”) – the costumes. Of course, Frankie is fitted into one outrageous and glorious outfit after another. But Bostian saves her finest threads dazzling pieces for the finale, including an ode to “Lost in Space”/”Star Trek.”

With most of the cast accented in light tubes, one grandiose design is absolutely breathtaking. NO SPOLIERS here, but this accessory is worthy of any Rupaul’s Drag Race finale.

Ms. Wright also leads the incredible live band that includes Greenville musicians Patrick Landis, David Sims, Logan Belcher, and Brett Batson.

“The Rocky Horror Show” also showcases the double-decker scenic design by Brandon Roak, Tony Penna’s festive lighting, Kurt Conway’s sound design and props by Cassidy Bowles.

Tickets are $40 for General Admission, $45 for Reserved Seating, and $65 for Cabaret Seats which include participation packs and drinks, as well as the closest seats to the Transylvanians. Tickets can be purchased at www.WarehouseTheatre.com or by calling 864-235-6948.

For further reading, see SPECIAL PREVIEW: The Upstate’s Not-So-Rocky Love Affair with “Rocky Horror.”

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